A 53-year-old man and another who is 72-years old have been charged with failing to disperse from an unlawfully held public meeting in the face of orders from the police to do so.
They were granted station bail and will return to court towards the end of March.
On January 14, a handful of persons stood at the metal boundary outside the House of Assembly compound; the afternoon sun beating down on them and their placards.
Then a squad of around 10 police officers, some suited in camouflage and some in the all-black uniform of the Rapid Response Unit (RRU), walked along the street from the Central Police Station.
Their destination became clear after they crossed the road and descended upon the small group. They first stood facing and speaking to the protesters.
Soon enough, the attention of people around the Kingstown Vegetable Market was drawn to the scene, many displeased with the actions of the uniformed men and women.
Lawyer and New Democratic Party(NDP) Senator, Israel Bruce happened upon the scene during the first exchange. He explained to SEARCHLIGHT that he stopped to find out what was happening, “Then I realised that the police are telling them that they don’t have the permission to protest, and I said they don’t need permission to protest.”
The police have publicly interpreted sections of the Public Order Act to mean that persons need permission to protest, and ought to notify the Commissioner of Police at least 24 hours before they hold a public meeting or procession.
Bruce submitted that the question of numbers was raised and he pointed out that they were fewer than 10 in number.
He said the question of distance to the Court building where Parliament was in session was also raised, and he told the police he would suggest to the individuals that they cross the road to the other side.
However, he noted that their placards had been taken away.
“…There’s no need to keep their placards. If they are going to stay the distance then just let them keep their placards and stay the distance. What is happening here is not necessary, it’s not necessary,” he emphasised.
During the first clash of officer and protesters, one man was taken away, although it is not clear exactly under what circumstances.
Persons, not all of whom seemed related to the protest, stood on the road some hurling insults at the officers.
Minutes later, the protesters had instead taken up position by the Vegetable Market. The officers spoke to them and proceeded to take away their placards; some resisted having their placards taken away.
Rise Hairouna’s, Nikeisha Williams tried to hold onto hers while commenting to various officers about the Constitution and the rights therein that she believed superseded the Act they were citing. She also maintained that there were fewer than 10 persons there and therefore the Act did not apply.
However, her placards were ultimately taken away as well.
Further down the line, a 72-year-old man was also in discussion with officers when a woman came up behind him, took the placard and headed into the market with it.
An officer followed her and snatched it away.
The 72-year-old, who did not appear to resist, was later escorted to the police station by four officers.
The protesters seemed to have been relieved of all their placards, but one woman held high what seemed to be a makeshift prop from a slab of cardboard from a box. It had no message written on it.
Yesterday, January 17, 53-year-old Dave Crosby of Cane Garden pleaded ‘not guilty’ that on January 14, in Kingstown, he did knowingly fail to comply with the direction of station sergeant, Julian Cain when directed to disperse from an unlawfully held public meeting which was held within 200 yards of the High Court Building when the House of Assembly was sitting.
Seventy-two year old Richard Jacobs of Villa is charged with the same offence, but that he knowingly failed to comply with the direction of Sergeant 403 Nigel John. He also maintained innocence.
The two defendants are on station bail.
They will return to the Kingstown Magistrate’s Court (KMC) on March 29.
Meanwhile, the New Democratic Party (NDP) has issued a statement condemning the arrests of these persons by the police, “for exercising their constitutional and democratic rights through a peaceful protest in Kingstown.”
The party deemed the arrests to be unlawful and said that they “consider this an attack on and an attempt to curtail the basic constitutional and democratic rights of Vincentians.”
“What is of great concern is that these arrests come in the wake of similar charges being recently thrown out of court,” the release noted.
On December 6, 2021, Kenson King, Adriana King, John Mofford, Robert ‘Patches Knights’ King, Rohan Simmons, Tyrone James, Collin Graham and Joseph DaSilva were informed that a Nolle Prosequi was entered in matters against them.
They had been charged with organising and taking part in protests on July 29 and August 5, 2021, in contravention of sections of the Public Order Act.
“All around the world, the strongest democracies see protests on a daily basis, as people take to the public spaces to demand and promote their rights. There is nothing wrong or bad about peaceful protest; in fact, social protest is essential to fostering a vibrant, strong democracy,” the NDP release stated.
And, it called for a stop be put to the “wanton abuse of state power against Vincentians that chose to exercise their rights through peaceful protest.”